THE SEEPING WOUND
I’m in love with three women. They’re characters in a work-in-progress I thought was close to completion. That flight of fancy has died a painful death thanks to (a) a sharp reviewer, who ripped the scales and the rose-coloured spectacles from my eyes and (b) some really good critique partners, who kept telling me what I didn’t want to hear.
What’s that sound, you ask?
My gut-wrenching sigh.
Yes folks, this story is not even close to being done. Don’t you just hate that? You think you have a project all nicely wrapped up, only the ribbon left to tie, and then the stuff inside starts leaking.
I’ve resisted rewriting the initial chapters for so long because I’ve never done a major overhaul. I’m in awe of people who discard chapters and start writing them from scratch. The closest I’ve come to that is when I was working on Contraband (see first book cover in the sidebar). That was simpler though; after a four-and-a-half year editing stint, I moved the third and fourth chapters and made them chapters one and two.
This time, it’s not going to be so easy. At times (like now) I’m convinced I’ve taken on more than I’m capable of as a writer. I’ve tackled a difficult subject – adultery – and I have not one, but two cheating women in the sane story. It’s hard for some readers to get past personal beliefs about the subject matter and dive in with an open mind, particular when good reasons for certain actions aren’t evident. The comments on my story page tell me that.
I think I’ve made the characters more sympathetic, but now I have the problem of making the story more compelling. My first chapter covers the main character’s time with her lover, after which she goes home to a neglectful husband, but a reviewer pointed out that there wasn’t enough to keep her reading. I’ve been told nothing really happens and that everything’s too easy for the MC.
The woman’s just had a run-in with her husband and after some mental agony decides she needs to end the affair because it’s plain wrong and pulling her away from her daughter, and the already alienated spouse.
What’s not to like?
Well, for one, a critique partner pointed out that after ‘a hell of an opening line’, I need to keep up with her expectations. She also insists my MC needs to have more of a reason to cheat than neglect. She was thinking that a major sexual drought (longer than the period in the story) would make my MC ripe for bad behaviour.
I’m totally discombobulated.
What to do?
THE PLASTER ON THE CUT
I’ve gone in and subtracted the writer’s voice from the narrative, that is, I’ve gone deeper into Justine’s (MC) head and taken out the writerly language. See samples below.
Old snippet: He murmured in her ear, a reminder to muffle her cries. His warning brought back reality, which she preferred to keep at bay. She closed her eyes and abandoned herself to his expertise.
Eyelids aflutter, she relished the intensity building at her core. Her cares slipped away on an orgasmic tide. Her heart thundered, she shuddered, squeezed her eyes shut and gasped his name. He answered with a groan, which spurred her onward. A kaleidoscope burst behind her eyelids and she fell from the pinnacle to which they always traveled together.
Then remorse came flooding back.
New snippet: He murmured in her ear, a reminder to muffle her cries. Eyelids aflutter, she bit her lip and focused on the intensity building between her thighs. Heart thudding, she shuddered, squeezed her eyes shut and gasped his name. He answered with a groan, which fuelled her climax. A kaleidoscope burst behind her eyelids and she fell from the pinnacle they always climbed together.
Then remorse came flooding back.
MAKING A DIAGNOSIS
I also have the mammoth task of sorting out my MC’s business. What would make a woman with strong morals and firm religious beliefs cheat on her husband of ten years? Neglect by her husband, a problem he refuses to share, along with what’s now termed as erectile dysfunction, should be convincing mitigating factors, but they haven’t worked out that way.
Ya know, I’ve read hundreds of articles on the craft of writing and I’ve come across the ‘interview your character’ advice a time or two. I didn’t think it was clap-trap, but haven’t found it necessary to use that tactic before today. Usually, I know what my characters are about and what drives them. I’ve shown above what has driven Justine to do the unthinkable, however, I have to do some fancy footwork to convince my readers that this woman has no other road to travel than the one she has chosen. So yeah, some heart-to-heart, woman-to-woman dialogue is vital.
I’ve been so caught up with putting plasters on the problems these women have that I forgot the reader needs to know EVERYTHING about what drives them. I’m so close to this trouble-filled trio and enthralled by their personalities that I have not been able to step back and view their situation from a distance.
THE HEALTHY STUFF
On the positive side, I’ve been told by readers that:-
- They know a lot more about Jamaica and its culture.
- Justine’s turmoil is theirs as they follow the tale of her obsession with her lover.
- The friends’ closeness is evident in that they support each other through some rough times, which makes the book a good read.
- They know the voices of the women without looking at the name in the chapter headings.
My first course of action was to read the ‘First Scene’ chapter in Make A Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld (good book!). I have no doubt I’ll be reading those pages again and again before I even think of touching my first three chapters.
Secondly, having printed out the criticisms I’ve received, I’ll be looking at my opening chapters over the next few days. I hope to do this with an unbiased eye. I hope I’ll subdue the part of me that says I can’t rewrite the chapters and make them work. (I’ll restrain myself from telling you about the stress I’m beating away right now.) I hope to emerge with a shiny new opening that’ll wow my readers so they’ll want to consume the book in one sitting, or close to it.
And I better get this right since this project is dear to my heart and I’m 99.99% sure I’ll be going the self-publishing route with it at the end of 2011.
I’ve belly-ached enough. It’s your time to share. Do you have any tips as to how you get over your infatuation with your characters and make your story sparkle? I sure would like to hear them.